Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tribute to Moloch: Beethoven From Zygote to Death

IN A SORT OF PERVERSE SLEIGHT OF HAND, some apologists of abortion invoke the concept of personhood only to deny it to the fetus so as to justify morally its slaughter. What these advocates of abortion do is use a functional definition of person (in contrast to a more traditional notion of person as concept of numerical or ontological identity). The functional definition of personhood is vague, and the abortion apologist then exploits the confusion of thought that vagueness can engender. These thinkers are not like a trustworthy Virgil guiding Dante through the Inferno or a loving Beatrice guiding the poet through the Paradiso. Rather, they are more akin to the less reliable, even treacherous guide that Gollum was to Frodo, or that the Nabataean Syllaeus was to the Roman prefect of Aegyptus, Gaius Aelius Gallus in his catastrophic expedition to Arabia Felix. Of the many that could be cited--and their name is Legion--we might mention one of the more notable false guides, Michael Tooley. Unlike Virgil, Tooley does not lead you in and out of hell into heaven, but into hell, the inferno of abortio infelix, to leave you there. Abortion, more than war, is hell, and Tooley is one of hell's minions, hell on earth where women spread their legs and open their wombs for all men to come in, but for no men to come out:
Tantum artes huius, tantum medicamina possunt,
Quae steriles facit, atque homines in ventre necandus
Conducit. Guade, infelix, atque ipse bibendum
Porrige quicquid erit: nam si distendere vellet,
Ex vexare uterum pueris salientibus, esses
Aethiopis fortasse pater . . . .

So great their arts, so powerful the drugs,
Of he who makes them sterile, paid to lead mankind within the womb
To death. Rejoice, unhappy wretch, and give her with your own hand
The stuff to drink whatever it be: for were she willing to let her belly grow
And trouble her womb with bouncing babes, you may be
Per happenstance, the father of an Ethiopian . . . .
Juvenal, Satires, VI.594-99

The artifice of these apologists of death, of feticide and infanticide, comes from their notion of person.* Traditionally, a person was in the category of "is," and not in the category of "has" or "does." A person was something that related to being, to one's substance, and not to one's possession of something or one's activity, one's becoming or doing. Traditionally, one could be a person and not necessarily act like a person or have all the characteristics or qualities of a person. In other words, the notion of "person" was, traditionally, ontological or related to numerical identity. The notion of person was not a qualitative notion (what one "has") or functional notion (what one "does"). Since traditionally a human person was what is, there was no real distinction between a human being and a human person. All men were persons, though not all persons were men (e.g., angels, devils, or most eminently God). Modernly, the functional or qualitative definition of person is the ideal tool to force a separation between a human being and a human person, because a human person is, under the modern view, something one has, or something one does and not something one is. This allows the abortion advocate to slip by the undeniable fact that there is a continuous numerical identity, an ontological though perhaps not functional or qualitative continuity, which is apparent from the first moment of a human being's conception through the entirety of his or her life: from zygote to newborn to adult and into old age there is an identity, an "is"--the "is" is the person--they choose to ignore. Put simply, Christina Rosetti said it best:
I am not what I have nor what I do;
But what I was I am, I am even I.
Christina Rosetti, "The Thread of Life."

In other words, the abortionists avoid the question of personhood, except as they define personhood. They have to, because if they used the concept of personhood used by those who are pro-life, the abortionist would lose the argument:
The argument from continuity of development is about the question of the identity of the foetus--is it the very same thing throughout its development? More precisely, is it the same human being as the baby/child/adult into which it develops? The argument is not based on the setting up of a series of entities that can be compared according to some characteristics admitting of degrees, such as more or less heavy, more or less tall, or more or less bald. The argument is not that the child is a human being because it has some large set of properties and you can (conceptually) go back in time to the foetus, observing those properties dropping away one by one and lessening by degrees, so that because there is no point at which humanity clearly ceases to apply to the gestating entity it must therefore be human all long. The argument is, rather, that there is a single human organism from zygote to adult, because at every stage of development the gestating entity is doing precisely what any organism does in its movement from immaturity to maturity, namely growing, differentiating, taking on a mature shape and form, and acting in a way that shows it to be numerically distinct from its environment. . . . These properties do not shows [sic] themselves to greater or lesser degree in the gestating entity at different stages of its existence: the gestating entity always has those properties. . . . Hence there is one single organism at all stages; that organism can only be human; all human organisms are human beings; hence there is a single human being.
Oderberg, 12-13.

Beethoven's person is one and continuous from zygote to death

That's where the abortion advocates lose the argument: with an ontological notion of personhood. To put it in concrete terms, let us take Ludwig van Beethoven. The zygote of Beethoven was contiguous and one with the infant Beethoven, was contiguous and one with the child Beethoven, was contiguous and one with the adult Beethoven, was contiguous and one with the Beethoven who wrote the Emperor's Concerto (Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73), was contiguous and one with the Beethoven in his death throes. The Beethoven as a zygote was the same person as the Beethoven shown in his death mask. Beethoven was Beethoven all the way through his remarkable life, from beginning to end, and never anything but Beethoven. Beethoven was the same "I" when he was arrested in Vienna by order of the town's Commissär because he appeared to be a roving bum with no hat, an old coat, and no identifying papers, and defended himself by saying "Ich bin Beethoven." He could also have said "Ich war einen Zygote," "Ich war ein Embryo," "Ich war ein Jugend," "Ich war ein Mann," und "Ich bin Beethoven."**

During the continuum of Beethoven's life, he did not become the person of Beethoven at one discrete moment of time, and then lose his person at another discrete moment of time. He existed at conception, and died, at least physically, at death when Beethoven's soul parted from his body. He was Beethoven the entire time through. But of course, this ontological concept of personhood as identity of being is fatal to the abortion project. To kill Beethoven anytime during the continuum of his life from zygote to the moment before death is to kill . . . the person of Beethoven. If we would have aborted Beethoven's zygote, we would not have ever heard, and wept, at the beautiful second movement, Adagio un pocco mosso, nor have been relieved by following light-hearted and uplifting Rondo, of Beethoven's Emperor's Concerto because the person of Beethoven who wrote this wonderful opus was once the very same zygote in his mother's womb. Beethoven's life began, as everybody else's life, when his father's sperm fused with his mother's oocyte:

It is quite clear that what was known more than 100 years ago, even intuitively before that, is that the fusion of sperm and oocyte begins the life of a new individual human being. In Human Embryology the terms understood to be integral in the common sense language are: human, being, person, individual, human being, life and human life. Unfortunately, every one of those terms has been parsed and corrupted to mean something it is not.

C. Ward Kischer, Ph. D., "When does human life begin? The final answer."

Instead of seeing the obvious identity and ontological equivalency of a human being between zygote and adult, and accepting the moral implications that the zygote is a human being and therefore a human person, these false guides lead us into a vague concept of personhood* which they understand qualitatively or functionally as an amalgam of discrete characteristics and not a matter of numerical or ontological identity. A person is no longer a being, but is something one becomes, or what one does, or what one has. Then, taking advantage of the inherent vagueness of the term person as a functional or qualitative amalgam of discrete characteristics and the "sorites paradox"*** into which any vague term encompassing a group of discrete elements invariably leads, they nimbly excuse themselves from the paradox by advocating arbitrary and result-driven qualitative or functional definitions of personhood that conform to their goal of justifying abortion.

Michael Tooley has put together his morbid apologia for feticide and even infanticide between the densely packed covers of a book (more than 400 pages) called Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), and we certainly do not intend to tackle a full exposition or criticism of those views in this blog. We shall only give it a glancing blow. But in keeping with the topic of this posting, Tooley steers his reader into a sorites paradox by focusing on a vague functional or qualitative concept of the personhood of the fetus as an abstraction from particular qualities (mainly self-consciousness), side-stepping the status of the developmental numerical identity of the fetus as a human organism or human being. By invoking "personhood" as a functional abstraction of discrete characteristics, (something one becomes) and rejecting a concept of personhood as linked to the numerical identity of a human organism or human being (being), Tooley has led us to a vague term and into the sorites paradox. Surely a zygote is not a human person since it has no consciousness of self that we can measure? If a zygote is not, neither is a morula, or a blastula, or gastrula, embryo, or a fetus, or an infant!

Ahh, but do not despair! Tooley to the rescue! The "absence of significant differences between successive members of some series, or between successive stages in some process, provide no reason at all for concluding that there are no significant differences between non-successive stages or members." (Tooley, 169-70, quoted in Oderberg, 12.) (emphasis added).**** So the fact that we cannot be assured of personhood at any one stage does not mean we cannot perceive personhood at some stage. Or, more precisely, he argues the opposite since he seeks to de-personalize, not to personalize: that "the clear existence of a person at some stage . . . [does not mean] there will be a person at every stage of development." Oderberg, 12. And therefore, we ought to use Tooley's definition of personhood which, Tooley says, doesn't happen until there is a capacity for self-consciousness, rational thought, an ability to envisage a future for oneself, and of remembering one's past, and so forth. This Tooleyan definition of personhood is really or virtually a definition of adulthood, and so it automatically excludes the fetus. Is that result-driven or what?**** The power of definition lies in Tooley's hands, and he uses it against the fetus? What if the fetus held the power of definition? Would he use it against Tooley? Should personhood be defined by the one who has something to gain? Should the definition of person reside with the one that holds power over another?

But those latter questions are to stray from the subject.

People like Tooley do not confront the argument of the opponent of abortion; they avoid it. The argument of continuity of development or numerical identity of a human being, that is, a notion of personhood that is ontological, not functional, does not lead one to a sorites paradox. The issue of a person as an individual substance is vastly different from the issue of a person as defined by the likes of Tooley. This is because the issue is properly one of identity, of contiguity, of a being traveling down the continuum of becoming, not an issue of generalization or abstraction from particulars or discrete instances. It is the difference between the contiguity of a thread or cloth or traveling down a road or a river versus the non-contiguity of abstracting from numerous discrete instances, such as abstracting a heap from many grains or a forest from many trees, or a hirsute man from his many hairs.

Personhood is not something abstracted from particulars, such as a heap from individual grains. Personhood is something that is a contiguous, non-discrete continuum or path. Personhood is not something that we receive at a point in time, as if it were an office like knighthood. We are not dubbed a person once we acquire the enumerated prerequisites, or reach the requisite number of years, an adequate IQ, or ability to speak. Personhood is something that we have from our first moment of conception, and only later discover that we have. Personhood is both being and becoming; it is not becoming alone, and certainly not doing or having alone. Being precedes becoming, doing, or having. Becoming, having, and doing do not precede being.

Personhood is a journey, a thread. Persons grow. Persons are conceived, grow, go through phases, and die their physical death. Persons are threads, threads of Ariadne in the labyrinth of life, threads subject to the Fates. Persons are not heaps composed of discrete parts, living in discrete moments.

Thinking humans are heaps means they end up in heaps by the hands of those who think them so.

Thinking as human as heaps leads to heaps of dead humans

*The term "person" is not only a philosophical term, but it may also be a legal term, in which case it could be defined positivistically and with greater precision, and it ought to follow the philosophical or moral concept of "person." We focus on the philosophical meaning of the term "person." Philosophically, the term "person" has undergone some significant shift since the Enlightenment, and the effect of the doctrine of the Empiricists, particularly John Locke, on the concept of personhood, and hence the understanding of man, would itself be an interesting study. The result is that often the advocates of abortion are using a different, functional notion of person than the opponents of abortion who rely on a non-functional, ontological notion of person. The word "person" comes to us from the Latin persona and the Greek prosōpon (πρόσωπον), a word originally meaning the mask worn by an actor. Ultimately, the term was used to express the concept of an individual. Boethius is the source for the classic definition of person. In his De persona et duabus naturis, c. ii, Boethius defines person as "naturae rationalis individua substantia," an individual substance of a rational nature. St. Thomas expanded on the Boethian definition, in particular on the notion of substance, and in his Summa Theologiae, explains that the Boethian individua substantia signifies a substantia, completa, per se subsistens, separata ab aliia. S. T. III, Q. 16, art. 12, ad 2. That is, individual substance means "a substance, complete, subsisting per se, existing apart from others." A human being's personhood, therefore, consisted of soul and body conjoined. The concept was ontological, not functional, and therefore no one could be a human being without also being a person. Empiricism's blinders do not allow it to recognize such spiritual or metaphysical realities such as "soul," and so it has tended to define "personhood" by empirical data alone, which has resulted in a functional definition of personhood. For an empiricist, personality was constituted not by any underlying reality which self-consciousness or rational operations revealed (and so one could be a person without self-consciousness, e.g., while asleep, or without rational operation, e.g., a brain damaged individual, or even without all functions operating because of biological limitations, e.g., a fetus), but by the self-consciousness or rational operation itself. Thus Locke defined a person (self) as "a conscious thinking thing (whatever substance made up of, whether spiritual or material, simple or compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends." John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, c. 27, ¶ 17 (emphasis added). So Locke, by his emphasis on personhood as being something functional or qualitative (conscious), appears to have been one of the first to separate the human being from the human person. The result has been nothing sort of bizarre confusion. For example, H. Tristam Englehardt adopts this corrupt notion of personhood in his book The Foundations of Bioethics (Oxford: Oxford University press, 1996), 138-39:
[N]ot all humans are persons. Not all humans are self-conscious, rational, and able to conceive of the possibility of blaming and praising. Fetuses, infants, the profoundly mentally retarded, and the hopelessly comatose provide examples of human non-persons. Such entities are members of the human species but do not in and of themselves have standing in the secular moral community. Such entities cannot blame or praise; they cannot make promises, contracts, or agree to an understanding of beneficence. They are not prime participants in the secular moral endeavor. Only persons have that status. . . . but do not have standing in the moral community. . . One speaks of persons in order to identify entities one can warrant blame or praise. For this reason, it is nonsensical to speak of respecting the autonomy of fetuses, infants, or profoundly retarded adults who have been never been rational.
Tooley's definition of person, which fits with Englehardt's description, simply expands on Locke's, and relies on the existence of psychological characteristics, qualities, or functions, some sort of "mental life," which obviously requires a significant development or maturation in the individual before they exist. "Tooley toys with the idea that there are
necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood and provides a list of likely characteristics, but the ones he and other personists such as Singer focus on are (to use Tooley's words): 'the capacity for self-consciousness', 'the capacity for rational thought', 'the capacity to envisage a future for oneself', 'the capacity to remember a past involving onself' and 'the capacity for being a subject of non-momentary interests'." (Oderberg, 32, citing Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide, 349). In his encyclical Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II has clearly rejected a functional, qualitative measure of personhood:
Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, "from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and ... modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in a position to act". Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?"
EV, No. 60 (quoting Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), Nos. 12-13 and Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae) (22 February 1987) In their book Embryo (New York: Doubleday, 2008), Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen attribute this division between body and personhood to philosophical dualism, and advocate a philosophical animalism in equating human personhood with human being. Dualism is eventually self defeating. Id. at 83-111.

**Norman Lebrecht, The Book of Musical Anectdotes (New York: Free Press, 1985), 193.
***The word "sorites" comes from the Greek σωρείτης (sōreitēs) meaning "heaped up," the word, σωρός, (sōros) meaning "heap." The sorites paradox, or paradox of the heap, is called that way because of the first formulation of the problem by the Megarian logician Eubulides of Miletus. The paradox comes from vague predicates such as "heap." If a grain of wheat does not make a heap of grain, then it follows that two grains does not, and so on for three, four, five, etc. grains of wheat. When, then, if ever is there a "heap" of grain? A similar puzzle involves the use of the vague term "bald." If a man with one hair on his head is bald, then a man with only two hairs is bald, as is a man with three, four, five, six, etc. hairs on his head. It follows that a man will be bald no matter what number of hairs he has on his head. This paradox was called the falakros puzzle (from falakros [φαλακρός]=bald man), but since it involves the same puzzle as the sorites paradox, it is usually not accorded a separate existence. The problem, of course, is that the paradox can go either way. ("One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens." Oderberg, 14) For example, if a man with 10,000 hairs on his head is hirsute (the opposite of bald), then a man with 9,999 hairs is likewise hirsute, as is a man with 9,998, 9,997, 9,996 hairs, etc. This means a man with one hair on his head is hirsute also. A similar paradox involves replacement of parts of the whole and the principle of identity, a paradox known as Theseus's paradox, or the paradox of grandfather's axe, Trigger's broom, or Jeannot's knife.
****Note the obvious nominalism in Tooley's thinking. Everything is discrete. In Tooley's thought, there is no reality to a continuity of substance in man during time.
*****In her notorious article, "A Defense of Abortion," published in Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971), Judith Jarvis Thomson does something similar in arbitrarily defining a "person" to mean essentially a fully or at least virtually adult member of the human species:
Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a human being, a person, from the moment of conception. The premise is argued for, but, as I think, not well. Take, for example, the most common argument. We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say "before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person" is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is. or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak trees, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are.
This is like extricating oneself from the sorites paradox by arbitrarily stating that a heap constitutes 5,000 grains of wheat, no more and no less, and a bald man constitutes a man with less than 600 hairs, no more and no less. Who gave Tooley and Thomson the rights arbitrarily to set the standard of personhood to include only adult or at least significantly matured humans so that their argument was a sure win?

1 comment:

  1. Very well done. A good read! And so much more.

    May the blessing of Jesus remain strong upon you,